EVERYTHING old is new again. From movies to music to clothes to “Catfishing”? Catfishing, which is one loser using a more attractive person’s photographs to create a online personality to gain the attentions and affections of another loser, has run rampant with the advent of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and was the focal point of a documentary and, now, MTV television show by filmmaker Nev Schulman called – duh – “Catfish”. This got huge attention recently when Manti Te’O, the starting middle linebacker at Notre Dame for Christ’s sake, was allegedly catfished via Twitter which proves that this younger generation is mentally challenged because if the All America middle linebacker at Notre Dame can’t manage to get himself laid in person then something is horribly awry. Though considered a new trend in society, I beg to differ, long before Twitter or Instagram in an era where our football heroes could actually score real women there was another tool used to lead men astray. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to ISCA BBS.
Long before the days of Facebook, there was ISCA an internet bulletin board system and to say that it was wildly popular would be an understatement. Here’s some backstory: ISCA was based out of the University of Iowa and almost wholly college specific, everyone there was anywhere from 18-24 years old and enrolled anywhere from the University of Florida to Arizona State to Butler University to UMass and any other university in between. No one there used their real names, only usernames. There were only 500 to 600 users allowed on ISCA at any one time so during the peak ISCA times, anywhere between 7:30 and midnight eastern standard time, there was usually a virtual queue of 30 to 45 minutes to get in…if you were lucky. Once you logged into ISCA you were presented the list of people that were online and how long they had been logged in. If a particular username caught your eye then you could click on that name and see their profile which was usually some song lyrics they liked or maybe a verse from a poem or something but because ISCA was DOS based there wasn’t a single solitary picture on the entire site. Profiles usually consisted of a written description of themselves. Say for instance you see the name “LadyAggie74” and you’re at the computer like “Hmm, lemme check honey out” you might read something like this:
Short (about 5’1), caramel complexion, brown eyes, long brown hair (blonde highlights), pretty smile, love listening to Janet Jackson, MC Lyte, and H-Town cassettes while hanging with my girls. Love Football and Basketball! I go to the best college in the world, North Carolina A&T – Aggie Pride!! X Me!!!
And that’s all you get. That’s all you know. Ain’t no picture of her, and ain’t no picture of her friends because this is DOS.
What can it hurt though? You’re at your school, let’s say it’s in Georgia, and she’s in North Carolina so you “X” her. To “X” someone is to basically start a chat with a single user. So now you’re talking via ISCA “X Messages” all hours of the night and then at some point she hits you off with her phone number so now after you’ve been up all night chatting with this person that you only know through a no picture having, no clue giving DOS-based computer program, NOW you’re going home and calling back and forth with this girl and since you can’t always hear less than attractive on the phone (because that ability exists) you’re more intrigued; she has a pleasant tone, you can imagine that pretty smile in your that she typed about in her profile in your mind’s eye when she laughs. You’re on the phone hours with this girl multiple times a week.
This is long before cell phones with all-inclusive long distance minutes so on top of being up on ISCA until at least midnight chatting in the computer lab when you’re really supposed to be typing that paper that’s due in 14 hours, now you’re talking to this girl, this freakin’ stranger, sight unseen, and doing UNGODLY things to your phone bill. The both of you have established a time that you will meet up on ISCA every night now – 8:30pm – and your eyes light up when your computer states:
“X Message from <LadyAggie74> at 8:47pm EST”
…and the message says “Sorry I’m late, handsome. There were 90 people in the ISCA queue tonight.” And sure, she called you handsome and she has no idea what you look like either but you’re young, and hormonal, and you’ve created these mutual ideal visions in your head of what this person is now. This is a good place to stop to say that not only is Catfishing not new, but in my day Catfishing was double edged. You had two vested entities now going on and on without as much as knowing a last name in some cases. But I digress.
The online chat on ISCA ends and then you ride your bike from the library back to your apartment where you immediately open a pack of Top Ramen and call LadyAggie74 on the phone. You talk for about 90 minutes until you get to that “Hang up…No, you hang up” stage that the two of you have done for the last 7-10 days of whatever kind of silly relationship this is, and then finally someone broaches the subject, “Send a picture to me in the mail.”
You see, kids, when you met someone online in my day if you wanted to know what they looked like they had to take a picture, get the picture developed if they didn’t have one that they liked immediately on hand, get that picture in the mail where the US Postal Service dilly-dallies with it for 3-5 days, in that space of time you’ve ISCA chatted and further murdered your long distance bill but then the wise idea, “Yo, me and some of my boys can drive up to A&T after class tomorrow!” There’s only 6 hours between you, you figure out the living arrangements later, the goal is just to get there. She agrees that it’s a good idea so after your 11am class you gather your team of 3, gas up the ride, and you head up the road to North Carolina A&T; you’re excited because you’ve built this woman up to be outstanding, your boys are excited because you’ve already told them that the woman you’re going to see is outstanding so they, in turn, are going to get an outstanding woman by default due to that whole “birds of a feather” rule. She’s already told you that she has a big kiss waiting on you when you get there so you’re amped up on that. You’re playing the music loud, you’re laughing, you’re smiling, life is good.
So you arrive in Greensboro and stop at a gas station to call her from the pay phone so that you can….hold up a sec…
You see, kids, in my day there were once these things called pay phones that were…you know what, never mind, look them up. Anyway…
…you stop a pay phone so that you can call and let her know that you’re about 10-15 minutes away from campus and you need to know where she wants to meet up. You also let her know that you did bring a few of your boys with you so if she wanted to get her team together and meet us for dinner (because it’s almost, like 7pm now) then that would be cool. She says that would work because a few of her girls just got to her spot and they were thinking about getting some grub. You can hear girlish giggles in the background (none of their giggles sound like they’re ugly), they’re playing “Back and Forth” by Aaliyah so now in your stupid, hormonal just turned 20 mind, the whole crew looks like Aaliyah.
She gives you the directions to the restaurant, tells you that she’s in a black Chevy Blazer and that she’ll see you in a few. You jump back in the hatchback and give your boys the thumbs up, “Homeboy, them chicks ALL hot!” (Remember, that’s based on the song you heard them listening to on the radio, not any real visual evidence) Your boys get hyped and you pull out onto the main drag, make this left, then a right, a left, and then another left into the restaurant. You and your boys get out of the car, there’s already a black Blazer with a North Carolina A&T sticker on the back window so she’s beat you here. You get out of the car, smooth out the seat wrinkles you’ve earned from your 6 hour journey and you and your boys hit the smooth stroll up to the restaurant.
LadyAggie74 and her team are waiting for you in the glass lobby, from their vantage point they’ve been able to see and size you and your boys up from the moment that you got out of the car so they had about a 15 second advantage on you. You open the lobby door and look for 5’1 with brown hair with blonde highlights and a pretty smile. She steps forward and is 5’1 in both directions, height and width, and flashes what is honestly a pretty smile. Okay, she’s plus plus plus sized but no big deal, you can deal, she’s cute, you step forward and give her a hug, she’s kinda squishy but it’s all good then you go to break the embrace and you catch sight the mole right next to her nose with two friendly little hairs protruding from it and you have to compose yourself immediately so as not to hit her with what we called, in my day, the gas face, like so…
Okay, so she’s short and wide and she’s got a hairy mole, only one attribute of which she let on to in her ISCA profile. You turn your attention to her team and you look for Aaliyah lookalikes. No dice. One was very thin, like in dire need of everything on the menu thin, with pock marks every few inches on her face, the other was very tall and when I say tall I mean at least an inch and a half taller than anyone on your team, the tallest of which was 6’2. Okay, that’s cool, if you play ball later you pick her first. Finally there was frumpy girl who if you had to describe her you would do so by saying she was built like a big bag of lukewarm water. But she has great skin so…there’s that.
So you’re sitting in the restaurant, at a big round table in the center of the joint with this mixed bag of women and your boys are looking at you because you got them out here on this mission. You’re looking at your menu but not reading a word that’s on it because you’re trying to figure out why the vision you had made up in your mind 10-14 days ago didn’t have a hairy mole on its face but more than that, you’re thinking about the business decision you have to make now. Aside from the visuals, you’ve gotten a C- on your last two exams due to all night ISCA chats rather than studying, gas money to and from North Carolina cuts into what are already shallow pockets, not to mention when you get back to your apartment your phone is going to be cut ALL THE WAY the f*ck off because you’ve got two paychecks worth of long distance calls on it, calls fueled by conversations of what she “may” be capable of and “possibly willing” to do with you if she ever met you. Yes, the business decision that says:
I’m going to have to do this young lady to justify the journey.
Is that crass? Abso-freakin’-lutely, it is. But the looks on your boys’ faces say that they are likely thinking the same thing and are probably drawing straws under the table to see who gets who between Skelator, the Bag of Water, and Stretch: The Tallest Woman in the Building. You can’t just drive off after a 6 hour drive to Greensboro, you’re here now. You deal with it, you chalk it up to experience, you tell yourself that next time you will wait the 3-5 days for that picture to come before you start on any road trip adventures. You have dinner with that young lady. And after that you look that mole square in the two hairs and you say, “Take me to your bedroom because, dammit, I’m a man, I can do this, and there are several positions we can use that will allow me to avoid seeing those two hairs wave in the breeze.” And she does, and you do, and it’s freakin’ great! (#silverlining)
And sure, your boys took a bullet for you, and they don’t talk to you on the way home unless absolutely necessary, and they NEVER go on any road trips with you again, and when you see them at Homecoming in subsequent years they will likely bring up the incident before they even say hello to you – if they say hello to you at all – but you did what you had to do! That’s how we dealt with Catfish in my day, if you were fooled, you handled it yourself and packed away the shame. Nev Schulman wasn’t there with his camera crew to ask about our feelings…
…he didn’t make any documentaries for us, there was no MTV show documenting the men fool enough to trust a DOS-based profile with no pictures. Even still, I implore you all to get off MTV, stop calling Mr. Schulman to do your investigating with Jason Mraz backing vocals, you get in that car, you drive there yourself, and if she fooled you and the mood so strikes you DO that woman anyway in spite of or at least tell her to put something on your next oil change, then you come home and unplug that computer and never meet another chick online again. That’s how we did it, that’s how America does it, and we’ve all gotten along just fine.
~thanks for reading
Blogger’s Note: There is no LadyAggie74. All likenesses or characterizations found here are purely coincidental. And no, this story never happened, no matter how many times you ask me or the 3 other guys in the aforementioned hatchback. Thank you.
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Great article, and hilarious! This is exactly how I felt when I watched the show, like, “really, all this technology and you go to mtv to figure out what you could’ve figured out on your own? Is telling all your friends that you’re gonna be on mtv at 10/9 central really worth the embarrassment though?” And I’m a photographer. See that pic of Nev posing with his camera? I’ve grown to hate that we do that. It looks stupid. You don’t see writers pose with a pen by their cheek or fitness trainers with a full head tilt next to a bar bell. Stop it Nev, just stop it, lol.
A lukewarm bag of water… I have officially died.. tears in my eyes…..
**LOL** Going to my corner…